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House Dems: Even Ill-Gotten Pension Benefits Can’t Be Revoked

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Illinois State Capitol

Illinois State Capitol buillding in Springfield (AP Photo)

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (CBS) — Some Democrats in the Illinois House are flip-flopping on whether to crack down on pension abuses by union officials, including two lobbyists who got teacher pensions for working just one day in the classroom.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Jackie Swike reports, this weekend, lawmakers argued that reversing pension benefits after they have been earned – even through questionable means – is probably unconstitutional.

Just two weeks after supporting legislation to take away ill-gotten pension benefits, the Democrat-controlled House Pension Committee debated a new bill that closes several loopholes in the future, but does not affect past benefit payouts.

“Our bill would say if they’re in, unfortunately they’re grandfathered in,” said the committee’s chairman, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (D-Orland Park.) “No one wants to give any of these guys a break who took advantage of the system, but we have do it constitutionally or else in reality we’re doing nothing.”

However, the revised legislation has not yet been approved by the Pension Committee and it’s unclear if the changes will be sent to the full House for consideration.

A Republican on the pension committee, Rep. Darlene Senger of Naperville, said union officials who exploited pension loopholes acted in “illegal and abusive” ways that do not qualify for constitutional protection. She asked why Democrats are backing away from the original bill.

“To come in and have all this change makes me very suspicious,” Senger said.

Retirement systems for Illinois teachers, state employees and university staff, already struggling to keep up with their long-term obligations, have been hit with reports of people taking advantage of loopholes to boost the size of their pension checks.

In some cases, public employees have taken leaves to work for their unions but continued to build benefits in government pension systems based on their union pay. In other cases, employees have built up pension credits in both the public and the union retirement funds at the same time.

And in two cases, lobbyists for the Illinois Federation of Teachers served as substitutes for a single day and then were able to have their years of union work counted toward benefits from a teachers’ retirement fund.

Lawmakers approved legislation last month that would bar such maneuvers in the future and take away pension benefits from the handful of people who had already used them.

The new measure discussed Sunday by the House committee is different. It would bar the future maneuvers but do nothing to take away pension money that has already been earned.

It’s unclear if or when the new measure would come up for a vote.

(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS Radio and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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